Welcome to the Machine: The Mangler Reborn (2005)

Matty recommends a solid low-budget sequel that probably passed you by.

For those interested in the history of Stephen King movies, THE MANGLER REBORN is anchored by an amusing titbit. Long before they sold the property to Barnholtz Entertainment, and a few years prior to them giving Tobe Hooper’s iteration of The Mangler (1995) the greenlight, stakeholders Allied Vision were spitballing different interpretations of King’s source text and the other King story they had the rights to, The Lawnmower Man. Though ultimately brought to the screen in a wildly different manner — to the point where King himself sued Allied and their distributor, New Line, for using his name to promote it since the final film bore so little resemblance to the author’s tale — one of the company’s earliest and slightly more fidelitous pitches for The Lawnmower Man concerned a demonic maniac feeding people to a massive lawn-chopper. Funny, then, that a decade or so later said scenario would essentially become the thrust of the Barnholtz-backed Mangler Reborn.  

The nuclear level fallout caused by the original Mangler has been well documented — but despite receiving a (grossly unfair) critical kicking and tanking at the domestic box office, Hooper’s much-maligned opus performed OK-enough on cassette to warrant Barnholtz Entertainment cobbling together a DTV sequel or two. The shingle’s second stab at twisting The Mangler into a franchise, calling The Mangler Reborn an improvement over the utterly worthless Mangler 2: Graduation Day (2002) is damning it with faint praise indeed. Made in ten days for chump change, this pleasingly low-key affair distills the central themes of Hooper’s picture — control, the exploitation of the working class, and the drudgery of the blue collar grind — into an often genuinely freaky chamber piece.

Written and directed by Erik Gardner and Matt Cunningham (the latter having earned his horror stripes with kooky slasher comedy Decampitated (1998)), the duo demonstrate a great feel for atmosphere and a flair for eerie and unusual images. Rooted in a serious-minded narrative, The Mangler Reborn sees the browbeaten Jamie (Monster Man (2003) cutie Aimee Brooks) experiencing the day from hell. She loses her job. Her husband walks out on her — and then she’s snatched by the creepy Hadley (Weston Blakesley): a murderous handyman who’s fallen under the spell of the first film’s evil laundry press, and who’s now butchering people with his own ramshackle version of the machine.  

While sullied by a couple of saggy patches, The Mangler Reborn gains a nice amount of mileage from its simple, stripped back premise. Making excellent use of their limited resources, Gardner and Cunningham keep the horror close quarters, confining it to Hadley’s freakishly ordinary homestead, and ratchet up the claustrophobic dread with an effective rumbling soundscape (shades of Hooper’s masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), surely?). Brooks and Blakesley submit a pair of brilliant — albeit wildly different — turns, and Phantasm (1979) favourite Reggie Bannister appears as the senior half of a father/son burglar team in a compelling subplot that’s become its own genre in recent years; a strain of movie that critic Kim Newman defines as “bad people invading the homes of worse people” (cf. The Collector (2009), Livid (2011), and Don’t Breathe (2016)).

Bridging the gap between body horror and stalk n’ slash, The Mangler Reborn is succulently squishy too. Gardner and Cunningham merrily linger on the grisly make-up FX (by Evolution Effects Studio), and the eponymous contraption — part flailing mechanical spider, part industrial blender — is impressively nasty.

Co-produced by the mighty Dan Golden (Naked Obsession (1990)) and featuring a fun, King-tipping cameo by helmer Jeff Burr (Night of the Scarecrow (1995)), The Mangler Reborn won the Audience Award at the Chicago Horror Film Festival in 2005 and landed on U.S. DVD through longtime Barnholtz peddler Lionsgate on 29th November of the same year, slap bang in the middle of the torture porn cycle. The film fits the form — and it’s infinitely superior to bigger, better-known entries such as Turistas (2006), Captivity (2007), and Scar 3D (2007). A U.K. disc followed on 16th October 2006 via the short-lived Lace Entertainment. Curiously, the copy of The Mangler Reborn that’s currently on Amazon Prime is censored. All the gore is intact, but it’s missing some (body doubled) boobs and — stranger still — has all profanity muted.

USA ● 2005 ● Horror ● 81mins

Aimee Brooks, Weston Blakesley, Reggie Bannister ● Wri./Dir. Erik Gardner & Matt Cunningham

2 thoughts on “Welcome to the Machine: The Mangler Reborn (2005)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s